In its Thursday update, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 240 new cases on Thursday.

The state had 1,961 active cases; 166 hospitalized, which is up 1 from Wednesday; 29 on ventilators, which is up 2 from Wednesday; a total of 335,529 cases; and completed 4,135 PCR tests and 973 antigen tests, according to ADH.

The Health Department reported that the top counties for new cases were Benton, 35; Pulaski, 33; and Washington, 22.

Nine more people died from complications with COVID-19 bringing the state’s death toll to 5,735 since the start of the pandemic.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson released the following statement on Thursday’s numbers: “Our vaccine numbers were lower today than last week. We have plenty of doses across the state, and all Arkansans 16 and older are eligible. Check the Department of Health website or call 1-800-985-6030 if you need assistance finding a location to get vaccinated.”

On Wednesday, the governor signed into law measures preventing state and local governments from requiring the coronavirus vaccine or proof of vaccination in order to access services.

The ban on requiring a vaccine would also prohibit it as a condition of unemployment. The measure includes some exceptions, such as state-owned medical facilities, if approved by Legislative Council.

The other measure prohibits “passport vaccines” in order to access goods or services. Federal officials have said there is no plan to require them broadly, but some Republican governors have issued orders preventing businesses or agencies from mandating them.

“These bills confirm my position that there should not be a COVID-19 vaccine requirement as a condition of employment in state government,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “It does make certain exemptions and it specifically exempts private businesses so they can make their own decision.”

The Republican governor has not taken action yet on another bill sitting on his desk that would prohibit state or local governments from imposing mask mandates. Hutchinson last month lifted the state’s mask mandate, but cities such as Fayetteville and Little Rock have been allowed to keep theirs in place.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at janderton@thecabin.net.

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